Fun at work? Play? Celebrations? Humor? Laughter? How do these terms fit into the manager's lexicon in the twenty-first-century world of work, with its emphasis on the rapid pace of change, global competition, and the need to squeeze every possible penny of profits? Historically, they haven't fit very well. For example, Tom Peters -- co-author of several best-selling business books and a noted speaker and seminar leader -- noted that until very recently not a single textbook on management even mentions the idea of fun (Peters & Austin, 1986). Peters, however, claims that it is legitimate for workers to have fun while being paid to do something productive. Furthermore, he passionately argues that people need to have a healthy dose of fun, zest, and enthusiasm in their work lives. Managers at all organizational levels, Peters contends, hold a key responsibility for creating a "culture of fun" in their workplaces.
Research support for the merits of fun at work come from a variety of sources. The exchange of humor at work has been found to be an effective antidote to job boredom and a useful device for the socialization of new workers (Collinson, 1988). Joking and humor have been shown to reduce the potential for conflict (Carnevale & Isen, 1986), increase employee creativity (Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987), and improve communications (Mettee, Hrelec, & Wilkens, 1971). Humor has also served to aid the development of cohesiveness in small groups (Duncan, 1984). More recently, several authors have suggested that the beneficial effects of fun include increases in employee retention (Mariotti, 1999), stress management, and profitability (Avolio, Howell, & Sosik, 1999; McGhee, 2000).
One psychologist (Glasser, 1994) speculates that today's workers have a new hierarchy of five levels of needs (see Figure 1) that differs substantially from the needs hierarchy that Abraham Maslow introduced a half-century ago. Maslow postulated a hierarchy that progressed from physiological needs to safety and security, then belongness and social needs, esteem and status needs, and finally self-actualization and fulfillment. Similarly, Glasser's need hierarchy begins with the need for survival (food, air, and shelter) and then moves on to love and belongingness. At this level Glasser suggests that satisfaction of the lower needs is logically followed by power and recognition, with the next level being a need for freedom and autonomy.
Glasser's hierarchy proposes a fifth, and all powerful, employee need -- the drive to have fun. Since many contemporary employees already experience a substantial degree of need satisfaction at the lower four levels, the need for having fun at work is often a predominant and driving force in their lives. Unfortunately, according to Glasser, this highest-level need is often unsatisfied at work, thus forcing employees to obtain their fun elsewhere. As a consequence, Glasser contends that many employees even view the workplace as incompatible with fun.
However, some well-known organizations have blazed a trail in this domain and differentiated themselves by consciously creating a climate of fun. For example, Southwest Airlines, led by CEO Herb Kelleher,...
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